Friday, the House Ag Committee wrapped up hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill using a series of subcommittee hearings. The closer Friday was with the Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry, where a range of interested parties shared their ideas, including a focus on the value of the conservation investment made today that could have longer-term value.
Groups have been sharing what's important to them as the House subcommittees work through their titles In a 2012 Farm Bill. Energy, conservation and forestry are all important areas of concern in the next farm bill. Perhaps one energy area that may see continued support is the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which Jerry Taylor says is important.
Taylor, president and CEO of MFA Oil Company, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Columbia, Mo., says BCAP's most "important long-term influence on the renewable energy market is to drive down the cost of the best perennial crops and increase the efficiency with which they are planted. No other federal program has this braod effect on America's biomass renewable energy industry. BCAP is a game changer, but only if administered properly and funded consistently."
And it's that funding that matters. Taylor noted the trouble caused by significant cuts in BCAP in the Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations process, which made implementing a solid business plan challenging." He urged that, if any funding becomes available for Energy Title programs in the upcoming farm bill, it be directed at programs like BCAP with a proven track record of success adding that expanding renewable energy "cannot be done in a laboratory or in theory."
The National Farmers Union joined a coalition of groups to support testimony brought by Agriculture Energy Coalition Co-Director Ryan Stroschein. The coalition urged Congress to provide robust funding for the 2012 Farm Bill Energy Title.
Rural America has been at the epicenter of our nation's emerging renewable energy and bioproducts industries, and farmers, ranchers, rural small businesses and rural economies have already begun to realize the benefits," Stroschein said during the testimony. "American agriculture, and the rural communities it supports, have demonstrated that they have the vision, entrepreneurialism, optimism, and tenacity to continue to develop these important and lucrative new industries if provided the tools to do so."
Current programs are working and the Biotechnology Industry Organization addes that companies are beginning to put steel in the ground for innovative new plants.
Jim Greenwood, BIO president and CEO, presented the subcommittee a timeline of the Farm Bill energy programs with examples of biorefineries that are tangible results of the programs, including INEOS Bio New Planet Energy in Florida, Myriant in Louisiana, and ZeaChem in Oregon. These innovative biorefineries are creating new employment opportunities and spearheading economic revitalization in rural communities.
And while energy was top of mind for many, there was testimony on the value of forestry and conservation. Charles Holmes of Alabama testified about the value of conservation programs even in forestry. Holmes runs a cow -calf and tree farm operation in the state. "My family has used a variety of conservation practices over the nearly 200 years on our land, including cross fencing, rotational grazing, padded water troughs, and prescribed burns. We received our first farm plan in 1939 and have been a certified tree farm since 1941. We have a mix of pine and hardwoods on our property and in 1999 we reintroduced longleaf onto our property. We currently have a forest management plan and a Registered Forester to assist with forest management."
Holmes, chair of the Forest Resource Policy Group for the National Association of Conservation Districts, says "the importance of conservation cannot be stated enough. Conservation is a common sense, long-term solution with a high return on investment. The desire to put conservation practices on the ground is why NACD supports the framework of the 2012 Farm Bill designed by the Senate and specifically the Forestry Title."
Both the Subcommittee chair and ranking member issued a statement after Friday's hearing.
Says Glenn Thompson, R-Penn.: "Today's panels provided the subcommittee with critical details on how the current Farm Bill is performing, what areas require improvement, and what recommendations will serve to create a stronger and more efficient law. We aim to craft legislation that will assist the nation in meeting the rising energy demand, and forestry provisions that promote healthier and better managed federal, state, and private forests. The agricultural sector will have to do its part as the nation works to decrease the debt, and I want to thank today's witnesses for assisting the Subcommittee with indentifying areas of program duplication and inefficiency as we draft a Farm Bill that meets the needs of producers and farming communities in each region of the country."
Adds Ranking Member Tim Holden, D-Penn.: "The 2008 Farm Bill encouraged a move toward advanced biofuels by promoting research, development and demonstration of biomass-based renewable energy. The bill also impacts forestland management, seeking to sustain healthy, diverse and productive forests. Looking ahead to the next farm bill we need to work together and look for ways to ensure that we can accomplish our energy and forestry goals under the current challenging fiscal environment."
Next step for the House is to craft a new farm bill. The Senate passed its version out of committee in late April. It appears the two bills could be pretty far apart, requiring extra work by a Conference Committee. And the 2012 calendar is already slipping by quickly for both Houses of Congress.